L3Harris in talks with Saudi Arabia over new spy plane and C-130 upgrades – Reuters

A Gulfstream G550 could become the body of the next Saudi spy plane. (Koichi Kamoshida/Getty Images)

WORLD DEFENSE SHOW: L3Harris is in talks with Saudi Arabia to replace its aging fleet of RC-135 Rivet Joint aircraft with a new spy platform better equipped to deal with the evolving threats facing the Kingdom faced, especially from the south, according to a company executive.

“We like to think there will be contracts [with Saudi Arabia] announced before the end of the year. But the acquisition process goes through its own speed here. It will be a direct trade sale,” Charles Davis, senior vice president of L3Harris International, told Breaking Defense at the World Defense Show in Riyadh.

Davis said L3Harris has partnered with BAE Systems to offer the Saudi Air Force a new state-of-the-art ISR platform that would replace the three Rivet Joint aircraft that have been in service in the Kingdom for more than 10 years. as the RE-3A Tactical Airborne Surveillance System (TASS).

Even though L3Harris continues to provide support and upgrade systems onboard Saudi Rivet Joint rigs, the fact remains that the rigs were “built on the 1950 version of an older KC -135 of the United States Air Force”.

“It’s a multi-intelligence aircraft that is capable of picking up any type of electronic intelligence signals, like signals intelligence, communications intelligence, and using that information to do whatever is necessary. to stop an attack or plan an attack,” Davis said. .

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However, threats continue to evolve, particularly with respect to communication and offensive capabilities, and that is why, notes Davis, “we must continually upgrade and develop new platforms to be able to detect new threat”.

The new platform offered to Saudi Arabia, according to Davis, is a Gulfstream G550 “which allows them to fly higher and capture more information. Better endurance and better autonomy. The more compact technology on board the G550 would allow the Saudi Air Force to have a much smaller crew to perform all required tasks. This description sounds a lot like the G550 AISREW (Airborne Intelligence, Surveillance, Reconnaissance, and Electronic Warfare) system that L3Harris supplies to the Italian Air Force.

“On the rivet joint, they [Saudi Air Force] having 20 or 25 people on the plane depending on the task. In the new plane, there will be about 5, 6 or 7 people due to advances in electronics and other systems,” Davis added.

Discussions of the new platform have not affected ongoing programs to keep the Rivet Joint equipped with the latest systems. “In fact, one of their planes is at one of our facilities in Texas getting a new lift system,” he said.

Saudi Arabia has worked hard to improve its Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) capabilities to prevent attacks with drones, cruise missiles and ballistic missiles launched by Iran-backed Houthi militias in Yemen.

Davis noted that the proposed new G550 platform will be built in such a way that it can be purchased “through direct commercial sales. So it makes our job easier and makes the Kingdom’s job easier.

DCS deals require less U.S. government intervention than Foreign Military Sales (FMS) cases, which is important because the Biden administration has granted greater scrutiny to FMS cases for Saudi Arabia in because of criticism from some members of Congress about the war in Yemen.

L3Harris is also negotiating with the Saudis to perform a complete cockpit lift system for their fleet of 33 ex-C-130 Hercules aircraft, similar to the upgrade the company made to the US Air Force’s C-130s.

The C-130 modifications will include “new cockpits, new avionics and new capabilities,” Davis said, adding that “the Kingdom has already expressed interest in upgrading the cockpits of its C-130s.”

Many of the programs L3Harris will implement in Saudi Arabia in the future will be in partnership with the Kingdom’s national defense industries. The Saudi drive to localize many defense industries has intensified in recent years, giving rise to numerous joint ventures and partnerships with international defense companies.

“L3Harris was the first company to establish a joint venture with Saudi Military Industries. We signed a deal in 2019. Fully commercially registered, and we already have three contracts with them at the moment,” Davis said.

A contract sponsored by the General Authority for Military Industries (GAMI) is to locate a Software Defined Radio, and other programs include “service centers for our Westcam EO/IR turrets and sensors that go on ships and planes,” he said.

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